CA Votes to Remove Vaccine Exemptions for School Children

A hand with gloves and syringe ready for vaccination

June 30th, 2015

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By CHHS Research Assistant Maraya Pratt

The most recent measles outbreak that occurred at Disneyland last December affected nearly 150 people and subsequently prompted the California Assembly to vote to substantially limit vaccine exemptions for school children. Vaccination rates in California have substantially decreased in recent years as parents have declined to comply with the mandatory laws. A study in California has found that over 10% of parents use the personal belief exemption to avoid the state’s vaccine mandates, which has contributed to the state’s reputation of being an “anti-vaccination hotbed.” Many of the failures to inoculate children are the result of the falsely alleged link between vaccines and autism.

The proposed bill passed the Assembly on a 46-30 vote last Thursday, and the Senate approved it Monday. The bill aims to increase immunization rates by eliminating philosophical and religious exemptions. The state would retain medical exemptions as deemed appropriate by the State Department of Public Health (i.e. for children with compromised immune systems).

Titled SB 277, the bill is actually in a form that would give some parents years to comply, as opposed to an earlier, stricter, form of the bill. However, if a parent still chooses not to vaccinate their child, their options are to either (1) homeschool the child, (2) participate in a multifamily private home school or (3) use a public school independent study that’s administered by local education agencies. The bill also hopes to increase parental knowledge by requiring schools to notify parents of their school’s vaccination rates.

As expected, SB 277 has met substantial resistance. California Catholic Conference has stated that parents are primarily responsible for their children and should be free to follow their conscience. However, the Conference also maintains that the Church advocates balancing rights with the legitimate responsibility to promote the common good. Other religious groups are not so understanding, and believe firmly in the responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a “conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems.” Some oppose the proposed bill as a violation of public policy, noting that the personal belief exemption is a “compromise” between public health experts and parents who are concerned with the side effects and methods of vaccine manufacturing. Others view the right to refuse as a “civil rights issue.” Finally, some view the mandate as infringing on the rights of children to attend schools. Resistance has even escalated to the point where Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, a co-author of the bill, has had to increase his security because he was receiving death threats from some objectors.

The bill is now awaiting signature approval from Governor Jerry Brown, who has not yet stated whether or not he will sign it. If he does, California will become the 32nd state to ban the personal belief exemption, and the 3rd to ban the religious belief exemption. Currently, Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states that do not allow a religious exemption to mandatory vaccinations. Although this is a radical departure for a state known as an “anti-vaccination hotbed,” according to the Public Policy Institute of California, the bill may accurately reflect a shift in public opinion: the majority of California adults (67%) and public school parents (65%) believe that unvaccinated children should not attend public schools.

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